For the past two years Daniel Martin has been Ireland's, if not Europe's, most consistent U-23 cyclist. For 2008, young Martin will race alongside current British road champion David Millar on the American Slipstream team.
The 21-year-old son of Stephen Roche's sister Maria and former British national champion and ex-pro Neil Martin, Daniel has proven beyond doubt that he is one of the best young climbers in the world with numerous stage wins atop some of the world's most notorious ascents for his French amateur team VC La Pomme.
Daniel was born in England and even became British junior champion in 2004, but declared for Ireland a couple of years ago and will follow his father Neil, uncle Stephen and cousin Nicolas Roche into the paid ranks in 2008.
"I was at my first bike race when I was ten days old," he laughs, "and I've probably been to one almost every week since then, whether it was watching my Dad or later on, racing myself."
The youngster's signature was sought after by most of the world's top teams for 2008, so when he committed himself, mid 2007, to a two-year professional contract, beginning next year, with the American Slipstream team, it raised a few eyebrows.
Classed as a third tier UCI continental team this year, Slipstream, although well run and with a strong anti doping ethos, were on the lower rungs of the professional cycling ladder. Not any more.
In 2008 Martin will line up alongside some of the biggest names in the sport. Stars such as Millar, David Zabriskie, Magnus Backstedt, Christian Van De Velde, Tom Danielson and Julian Dean will join up and coming youngsters such as European Tour winner Martin Maaskant, Aussie young gun Chris Sutton and the young Irishman in the line up, with an eye to a start in next year's Tour De France.
"It was a bit difficult when it was first announced," admits Martin. "I had to keep quiet as regards the scale of the 2008 squad. It's pretty exciting to be part of the project right from the start and I think, if it's not already, it will soon be the coolest team in the pro peleton and the one everyone wants to join."
"The camp was a whole lot of fun. I never felt so at ease in such a large group so quickly," he said. "It was incredible how quickly the team gelled, to the extent that I count my teammates as friends already. We did some rock climbing and even some wine tasting, as well as training. The level of organisation was mindblowing! Everything within the team is geared to making life easier for us, from logistics down to having the very best equipment available."
With nothing left to chance, each rider even received a Blackberry phone with everyone else's details already programmed into it!
"That really impressed me!" says Martin. "It means we can keep in contact with each other for free and if we ever have any problems or questions, we have no excuse not to get in touch with someone. It also makes the UCI whereabaouts system easier, again taking that little bit of stress out of life."
Slipstream were the first ever team to introduce an in house anti-doping program and next year will increase the testing with even more random blood and urine tests complimenting the UCI's own tests and allowing the team to build profiles of each rider, thus enabling them to detect any unnatural changes. It's another reason why Martin chose the American squad.
"It's the whole ethos of the team," says Martin of the anti doping programme. "We all want to work together, as we know that by doing that we can improve. There is no pressure. In European teams, I think they have so much tradition, they are stuck in a rut.
"This team is brand new, so any problem that arises is a new problem and instead of saying, well we did it this way the last time, they solve everything logically," he added. "It's like the Blackberry's, it's a new idea and I'm sure other teams will follow."
Martin plans to spend the next week or so at home in Birmingham with his parents before joining a big Roche family get together in Dublin for Christmas. February sees the Slipstream squad tackle another two week training camp in New Mexico, with Martin planning to relocate to Girona, Spain alongside the rest of the team before kicking off the season with the Tour of the Meditteranean, Tour de Haut Var and the Trofeo Lagueglia.
Having most of the team living in the one area is another innovation for a cycling team.
"There's not really any pressure to move to Girona," says Martin, "but I just think it makes everything easier. The service course is in Girona and there will always be someone to go training with, plus there is a good airport nearby and the roads are meant to be awesome.
At the moment I'm just enjoying riding my bike," he added. "There's no pressure to do thousands of miles, but I can't wait to get to ride in the Wicklow mountains again at Christmas."
Martin and the rest of the Slipstream riders will have to get used to having a camera in their faces, regardless of results, as they are the subject of their own reality TV show in the US. Chasing the Dream: The Clean Team will air on the Sundance Channel.
© BikeRadar 2007